On this page we’ve gathered together a lot of short articles that we think should be especially helpful to young writers. Scroll down to browse them all, or use the quick links below to jump to one that looks particularly interesting to you. Happy reading!
Finding Markets for Young Writers
Preparing Your Submissions
Poetry Has To Look Good, Too
The Value of A Journal
Creating Your Own Writing Group or Club
What Is A Story?
New Writer’s FAQ
by Sherry D. Ramsey
A common problem for beginning writers is the run-on sentence. It often occurs because the writer is so excited about his idea and so concerned with getting it all down on paper and so many things are happening that he just doesn’t know when to stop and he keeps writing and writing and…well, you get the idea.
Sentence length can have many effects in your writing. Short sentences are powerful. They read quickly and pick up the pace of the story, and they work exceptionally well in depicting action scenes because they visually mimic the quick activity on the page. Long sentences can work, too, in setting mood and tone, summarizing transitional periods of time in a story, and slowing down the pace so that the characters (and the reader) can catch their breaths.
Run-on sentences, however, do none of these things. They generally contain too many ideas, cover too much story ground, or link thoughts that are too disparate to be lumped together in one sentence. If you have forgotten by the end of the sentence what came at the beginning, then your sentence is too long or lacks unity of ideas.
Try looking at a long sentence and marking the distinct thoughts or ideas it contains. Do they go together? Do they follow a sensible order? Are they necessary? You may have a perfectly readable and understandable complex sentence, which is fine. But you may have a sentence that will work better if it is broken up, pared down, or re-ordered. Remember that your primary goal is to make it as easy as possible for your readers to understand what you are saying. They can’t do that if they’re all tangled up in your sentences.
Do it! Find examples of long sentences in your work and read them out loud. How many times do you have to pause for breath? If it’s more than twice, you might have a run-on sentence.
About the Author: Sherry D. Ramsey is the Editor and Publisher of The Scriptorium, and the author and editor of many short stories and articles. “Runaway Sentences” is from her e-book for writers, The New Writer’s Guide to Just About Everything.
by Sherry D. Ramsey
It isn’t easy to craft well-written sentences; there are many pitfalls for the unwary writer. Writing several good sentences that flow together to make a well-written paragraph is even harder. But a few tips can make your sentence writing easier and smoother, and produce an effective and readable result.
Be brief. To strengthen sentences, keep them short, clear and uncluttered. If every word is absolutely necessary, even a long sentence can seem brief.
Keep your reader interested. Endless predictable narrative puts readers to sleep, and you don’t want your work to be a sleep-aid. Make use of questions, interruptions, exclamations, and other unusual sentence structures.
Alternate sentence patterns. Combine sentences of different lengths and different structures. Read them aloud to test for varied and interesting patterns. Make sure they don’t fall into a sing-song rhythm or seem repetitive.
Bring things together. Sometimes a longer sentence makes for more effortless reading. Several sentences with the same subject, or a recurring pronoun, or any other connection, can be combined for better effect.
Write forcefully. Don’t write as if you are afraid of your reader. Avoid passive voice, and use energetic verbs. Write what you feel, not what you think you should say.
Don’t hide the forest with the trees. If you have a serious message, avoid attention-getting words and expressions. There are times when you want your writing to be less visible so that meaning takes center stage.
Make cuts with vigor. The hardest one of all. Sometimes to cut away the deadwood, you have to sacrifice some live shoots, too. If you’re too attached to your words, your writing as a whole can suffer. Be ruthless; the end result may be stronger for it.
by Sherry D. Ramsey
The characters in your fiction are the pivot around which all the rest of your story revolves. Readers want characters to love, to hate, to wonder about, and, perhaps most importantly, to understand by the time the story ends. How do you reveal characters that readers can’t wait to learn more about?
1. Through their actions: We make many of our everyday judgements about people based on what they do, and there is no-one to explain to us if we’re right or wrong. Giving your characters revealing actions is a very realistic method of portraying them. You don’t need to add an explanation. If you’re using the right kind of actions, they will speak for themselves, and your readers will appreciate being allowed to draw their own conclusions.
2. Through their words: Not only what a character says, but how he or she says it—word choice, diction, and attitude—affects the judgements the reader is constantly making about the character. Remember that not all of your characters will sound the same or use the same jargon or slang. A character’s voice can be one of the most strongly identifying things about him or her.
3. Through their background: Don’t do it in expository lumps, where you dump a long narrative passage about the character’s past. Instead weave interesting tidbits of information into conversation, interior monologue or short narrative comments. Know your characters’ backgrounds intimately before you start to write about them, and keep learning as your story develops. You don’t need to include every detail in your story, but having them in your head will help you keep your characters acting in realistic and believable ways.
4. Through their habits: We all have them, and what do they say about us? She scours the bathroom with bleach twice a day. He keeps his briefcase locked even at home. These little quirks and idiosyncrasies add depth and authenticity to your characters. What conclusions will your readers draw? What do you want them to think?
5. Through their abilities & tastes: What characters do and like has a strong effect on what we feel about them. In real life we are often drawn to those who share interests, but we can also be fascinated by someone who does something extraordinary. Keep these factors in mind when developing and revealing your characters.
Remember, characters are supposed to be real people, with believable traits and personalities that will be revealed through your writing, and most readers love the thrill of feeling that they have discovered something about a character. Use all of these methods to make your story people live on the page.
New Writer’s FAQ
by Sherry D.Ramsey
Here are a few of the questions most frequently asked by new writers, and some brief answers.
Q. How do I get started?
> Go on a quest for information. Read books on writing, articles on writing, and other writing in the field that interests you. Talk to other writers, join a writer’s group, take a writing course in person or online.
Q. What should I write?
> At least in the beginning, you should write what interests you and what you feel comfortable writing. There’s lots of time later to look at writing for a particular market. Familiarize yourself with your chosen field, read widely in it, and then write. A lot.
Q. When will I be able to sell my work?
> That’s one nobody can answer. There’s a writing myth that you have to write a million words as practice before you’re ready to sell, but that’s just to emphasize the fact that practice is the only way to improve at your craft. There are too many other factors–natural ability, effort, determination, and market factors–to set a definite timetable.
Q. I don’t know what to write. Do I have writer’s block?
> “Writer’s block” is a catch-all that often masks reasons why writers are having trouble getting things down on the page. Maybe you don’t have an idea that really interests you. Maybe you need to do a little more instructional reading to get a handle on what you’re trying to do. Maybe you’ve gotten off track with your current project. Maybe you think you need to wait until inspiration strikes in order to write. Maybe other stresses in your life are interfering with your writing. Some things to try:
*Make a writing schedule (every day would be perfect) and stick to it. You do have to train yourself to write regularly.
*Re-read what you’ve written and try to determine if there’s a place where things start to go wrong. Start writing again from that point.
*Pick a time of day to write when you have energy and feel wide awake.
*Have several projects started. If you get stuck on one, work at something different for a while.
*Have a “fun” project that’s just for you, with no pressure to make it great or ever sell it. Work on that if you’re having trouble with other things.
*Do creativity or writing exercises like the ones found online at Scriptorium Scribbles or in the book Discovering The Writer Within by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane.
Q. Do I need any particular education, courses or experience?
> No. If you’re interested in taking writing courses or workshops to improve your writing skills, that’s fine, but there are no educational or work prerequisites for being a writer.
Q. How do I start selling my writing?
> A better question is how to start marketing your writing, because chances are you’ll collect lots of rejections before you make a sale. Here’s what you need to know to market your work, once your writing is of saleable quality:
*Proper manuscript preparation and format (read a book like The Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats, or this excellent online article: “Proper Manuscript Format” by William Shunn, at http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/dec98/shunn.htm)
*How to draft a good query letter (look for How To Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters by John Wood, or go online and read: “How to Write a Successful Query” by Moira Allen, at http://www.writing-world.com/basics/query.shtml)
*How to find the right markets for your work (search online for “young writers”, “markets for young writers”, or “publishing young writers,” and see the article further down this page for more ideas)
Q. What other kinds of information do I need to get started in writing?
> Get a dictionary, a thesaurus and a style & grammar guide–and use them!
> Get Internet access–if you don’t have a home computer, get to the nearest community access site and learn
> Subscribe to a writing magazine or borrow copies from the library or writer friends, and read, read, read!
Q. Should I write for free?
> In many cases, it’s not a bad idea to do some volunteer writing work. You can gain valuable experience and information writing for organizations that are unable to pay–community and church groups, local newsletters, school bulletins, etc. Small items you write for these venues could grow into longer articles you might sell later.
> Experiences in your community can help generate ideas for other things you might write, and in addition, these projects help reinforce your perception of yourself as a writer. Just remember that if you want to make writing your profession, you need to get paid eventually for work you do.
Q. I’ve heard people talk about writing scams. What should I do to protect myself?
> Be wary of anyone who guarantees to publish your work or requires money from you.
> Don’t pay a critique service or book doctor until you’re sure you can’t fix your manuscript yourself (even legitimate ones)
> Reputable agents and publishers don’t charge reading fees. They make money when your work sells. Period.
> Remember that in general, writers get paid for their work or choose to work for free. They don’t pay for the privilege of being published.
Q. What about self-publishing?
> Many people do choose self-publishing as an option, especially if:
*They simply want a small number of copies of a work to distribute to friends and family (a family history, a collection of songs or poetry, a personal journal, etc.)
*They feel there is an audience for the work, but not a wide enough audience for a traditional publisher to be interested.
*They are willing and knowledgeable enough to take on the task of promoting and marketing the work
> Some books that were originally self-published did turn into commercial successes (The Christmas Box and Angela’s Ashes come to mind)
> Electronic publishing has made self-publishing easier and more accessible, but remember you still don’t want to sink a lot of money into it. You still have to be on the lookout for scams and programs that take unfair advantage of writers eager to see their work in print.
What is A Story, Anyway?
by Sherry D.Ramsey
So you think you want to write stories. That’s great! But…um…what is a story, anyway? What makes a story different from a sketch, an incident, an anecdote, or something else?
You’ll find some disagreement among different kinds of writers about what makes a story. But if you think about what you like most about some of your stories you might come up with something like interesting characters with interesting problems, and how they solve them. Or as Marion Zimmer Bradley, noted science fiction and fantasy author defined it: “A LIKABLE CHARACTER overcomes ALMOST INSUPERABLE ODDS and BY HIS OR HER OWN EFFORTS achieves a WORTHWHILE GOAL.”
That’s still not enough? There’s one more thing that helps define a story. A story contains a sense of completeness. It may be that the character has moved through the problems and solved them (and the ending might be happy or unhappy). Even if the problems can’t all be solved, the character might be satisfied just to come to that conclusion for now. There is movement in a story, from a beginning to an end. There is life.
A sketch might provide the kernel of a character or idea that could grow into a story. A series of incidents or anecdotes might be strung together to make a story. But the reader at the end of a story should have a sense that they have traveled at least a little way down life’s road with the characters. Learn to tell stories with that movement, and your stories will move your readers.
Creating Your Own Writing Group or Club
by Julie A. Serroul
Keep your options open and welcome all types of writers. If you open the door to all types of writers it will be easier to get a nice-sized group. Five to ten people is a manageable number for a writing group. Too small and you are not getting the benefit of many different opinions, tastes, and experiences. Too large and the group becomes difficult to control, and it becomes a challenge to make sure everyone gets their chance to be heard or ask questions.
- Arrange a meeting place. Our local library allows small groups to use the back room for meetings at no charge; perhaps your own local library has something similar they could let you use for little or no charge. Or, if you are really lucky, someone in your family may have a very large room or office they may let you use.
- Arrange a meeting time and day. Decide how often you want to meet and for how long. Remember that if you meet too often members will find it hard to get to all the meetings because of other things going on in their lives. But if you don’t meet often enough, people will forget upcoming meetings and may also lose interest. Our group meets twice a month and this seems to work out well. As for length of time, we meet for two hours. This seems to be a perfect length of time, but you’ll have to decide what works best for your own group.
- Moderator: A moderator is the person who keeps the meeting running smoothly. They perform many small tasks during the meeting such as:
> Explain what the group will be covering at the meeting;
> Explain and time the writing exercises;
> Write down any questions that members bring up and that the group is going to have to research;
> Set the next meeting date and arrange with library or whomever;
> Call everyone if the meeting has to be moved to another day or canceled;
> Collect and keep a record of dues (if you decide to collect them). Dues can be used to pay for the meeting place (if there is a charge for it), materials used at the meetings, costs of doing research, photocopying expenses, etc. It’s a good idea to keep the dues amount small, e.g. $1.00 per meeting. If you decide that you don’t wish to collect dues, then any expenses the group ends up having should be shared by everyone.
> Make sure that everyone gets a turn. Nicely mention that it is time to move on to another member to allow everyone to have a turn. This is important if someone is taking too long, because the group should always make sure that everyone gets an chance to be heard or to ask questions.
The moderator does not always have to be the same person, either. It can be a job that is shared between a couple of members or even rotated to allow everyone a chance to run a meeting. It is actually a good idea to have at least one back-up moderator in case the main moderator can’t make the meeting so that the meeting does not have to be canceled.
- What to do at each meeting: It is really up to the group members to decide what they’d like to do at their meetings, but the following are a few ideas you may like to try:> Do creativity exercises to help exercise your “writing muscle”. These should be timed (5, 10, or 15 minutes long) and ideas for some great exercises to try can be found at the Prompts page and YW Creativity page, and many other writing help sites on the Internet.
> Read samples of each other’s work and offer helpful opinions and advice (critique each other’s work). Remember when you are critiquing, however, that any comments you make about someone’s work should only be meant to help, never to hurt their feelings. Always comment as kindly as you can about things you see as problems and always try to mention things you liked about their work along with the things you didn’t. Your turn to be critiqued may be next and you’d want someone to treat your work and your feelings with respect. Here is an example of a Critique form that shows the types of things a writer would like to know about their work to help them improve.
- Decide upon specific questions about writing that your group wants answers to and together do some research for those answers. Some questions you may want to address could be:> How do you write believable “dialogue”? (conversations between characters)
> How do you write non-fiction articles or stories?
> How do you properly punctuate dialogue?
> Where can you try to sell your work, or compete in competitions?
> How do you create interesting characters?
Finding the answers to these questions, and many others, will require some teamwork. It is not fair for only one member of the group to have to do the research for everyone, so the best way to do this is to share the workload. You can find the information in magazines or books about the craft of writing, e-zines or articles about writing on the Internet, or perhaps you’d like to invite a local writer with more experience to come to your group and give a talk about a certain subject – they may have some information to share.
- Finally, you may simply enjoy talking about being a writer. The good things and the difficult things. Your group can be each other’s cheering squad when you do well, and can pat each other’s backs if you don’t. Either way its great to spend time with people who enjoy writing as much as you do.
Your group can do one, two or all of these things and more. It’s up to you as its members to decide. If you decide to go for it and start your own group feel free to contact our group “The Story Forge” for advice and assistance in getting set up. We’d be happy to help. You can send an email to email@example.com and ask your questions, and make sure you include the subject line “Questions for the Story Forge”.
Below are some examples of creative writing exercises to get you started.
These creative writing exercises are called freewriting exercises. Freewriting means taking an idea and quickly writing about it for a short time (usually 5-15 minutes). Don’t stop to think, plan, correct mistakes, or worry about what you are writing. Just write! (You can find more of these every month right here. Just click over to Creativity.)
You can’t make any mistakes here. Whatever you think of, whatever you write about, is right for you. So get writing and have fun!
“I opened my eyes and sat straight up in my sleeping bag. The rest of my family were still asleep in theirs, but the tent we had gone to sleep in was nowhere to be seen.” Describe what might happen next. Write for fifteen minutes.
Write a short story titled, “The Haunted Treehouse.” Write for twenty minutes.
“There was a strange noise in our backyard. When I ran out to see what it was I saw the most unbelievable animal I’d ever seen. It looked like three animals made into one.” Describe the animal. Write for fifteen minutes.
The Value of A Journal
Many young writers are introduced to the idea of journaling in school, at an early age. Because writing in these journals is part of class work, however, many students overlook the fact that keeping a journal at home can be an important part of your day, too.
A journal is a place where you can record your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences, as well as poetry, stories, and other writing that you might do. Your journal can be anything you want it to be, because it is just that–yours.
Of course, keeping a journal can help you improve your writing skills, but there are other benefits as well. Writing things down helps you to work through problems, understand events, examine thoughts and emotions, and discover who you really are. A journal can be a friend you tell your problems to and share your triumphs with. Keeping a journal can also help you set goals–and reach them.
Your journal can be anything; a scribbler, a looseleaf notebook, a binder, a bound blank book, or a computer file. Choose something you’re comfortable with and something you’ll enjoy using. If you’d like special paper, pens, or pencils, save up and buy them. You’d like your journal to be special to you. Then start writing!
If you find it hard to get started keeping a journal, just begin with short entries about the activities or events of your day. You will probably be surprised at how quickly you are writing more and more of your thoughts and feelings. Write often, and whenever you feel like it. Write when you are happy, sad, scared, excited, worried…anytime at all.
Keeping a journal is a habit that many people enjoy throughout their lives. Give it a try! You never know what you might learn about yourself!
Finding Markets For Young Writers
There are many places young writers can look to find markets for their work:
1. Your own experience – you may already read or be aware of publications which accept work from young writers. You can send them a short letter requesting Writer’s Guidelines, which they will provide for free. Be sure to include a business-sized envelope addressed to yourself and already stamped, for their reply. This is called an SASE, or self-addressed stamped envelope.
2. School – your teachers or school counsellors may be aware of contests or publications open to your age group. Make sure they know you are interested in writing so they can tell you about these markets as they become aware of them.
3. Books – such as The Market Guide for Young Writers by Kathy Henderson, or The Writer’s Market. These are special lists of places for you to submit your writing, and contain information about word length requirements, payment, and the types of writing various publications are looking for.
4. The Internet – there are websites devoted entirely to helping young writers develop their talents and find markets for their work. Try the “Young Writers” section of Inkspot at www.inkspot.com, and see the “other resources” section below.
5. Your Community – remember that your local newspaper, school or church publications, or local clubs and organizations may be interested in work by young writers. Don’t be afraid to ask—the worst they can do is say “no”.
Preparing Your Submissions
What your work looks like when you send it to a market or contest is extremely important. Sometimes your writing will not even be read if it is not presented properly.
Writer’s guidelines and contest entry guidelines often have special requirements, and you should always follow them exactly. Here are some general guidelines to follow when preparing your manuscript:
1. It’s best to have your work typewritten or printed from a computer, unless particular guidelines state that handprinting is acceptable.
2. Type or print on only one side of clean, white paper, leaving at least one-inch margins on all sides.
3. Double-space your work and use a plain, easy-to-read typeface such as Courier or Times Roman.
4. On your first page, type your name, address and telephone number, and e-mail address if you have one, in the top left-hand corner. Look at “Sample Page One” below to see how the rest of your first page should look.
5. All pages except page one should be numbered in the top right-hand corner. In the top left-hand corner type your last name and center a word or two from your title (see “Sample Other Pages” below).
6. If you are submitting poetry, put only one poem on a page. Poetry may be single– or double-spaced, and should be centered on the page. Your name and other information should appear on each page.
Poetry Has to Look Good, Too
by Sherry Ramsey
If you are planning to submit your poetry to a market or contest, follow these simple rules to make your words look as good as they read. Apply the general submission rules above for paper, fonts and personal information, and add the following:
1. Place only one poem per page.
2. Center your poem on the page with a left-justified margin (all lines begin the same distance from the left-hand side of the page). Use the longest line as a guide to determine your page margins.
3. Put the title in all capital letters.
4. Use either single spacing or double spacing. Keep in mind that you want your work to be as easily to read as you can make it. Put one extra line space between stanzas or verses.
5. Lines that are too wide to fit between your margins should be single-spaced, and indent the second part of the line five spaces. If you have long lines that run over the width of the page, the rest of the poem should be double-spaced to make it easier to read.
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